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Translation and Gender

Final Report Summary - TRANS (Translation and gender)

Translation and gender

Research in the area of gender and translation is relatively recent in the field of translation studies. In light of contemporary explorations of cultural difference in Western society and theoretical works that question the basic duality of gender, research perspectives about translation and gender are multiple and very promising since much of the terrain is yet uncharted. Language, gender and translation are fundamental aspects of human existence, cultures and nations. Jane Wilhelm's research project aims to address some of the questions at the heart of contemporary debates about identity, gender, emancipation, power, minorities or social cohesion in our increasingly diverse and plural societies.

Translation studies is a new academic discipline that has borrowed heavily from other more established disciplines, such as linguistics, comparative literature, history, philosophy (particularly hermeneutics), psychology, sociology and more recently, cognitive studies. In this context, the encounter of translation studies with feminist thought has been very fruitful 10 years ago bringing new dimensions to our understanding of translation ethics. Feminist theory in translation has made us become aware of the fact that translation is a source of conflict and that it engages many of the same kinds of active identity-forming processes as other language activities. Translations can thus provide valuable information about practices of domination and subversion since they have been (and still are) powerful instruments in ideological programmes. The questions that have been raised by translation scholars on the influence of cultural and ideological factors on translations (amongst them gender and power) have huge ethical dimensions.

The fellow's first objective was to critically examine the major contemporary perspectives on gender in translation, including psychoanalytical theory, as well as the works of Sherry Simon, Luise von Flotow and Gayatri Spivak, an Indian theorist with experience in the translation of Jacques Derrida and texts by Bengali writers. The idea was to have an overview of the context and of the questions that have already been raised in the area of translation studies, feminist theory and their relationship. Her second objective was to analyse, from an interdisciplinary perspective and the viewpoint of translation theory and practice, contemporary feminist theory that has not yet been taken into account in the area of translation and gender, in particular that of Rosi Braidotti, Catherine Malabou and Judith Butler. Her third objective was to explore the works of authors engaged in what has been called 'border-writing', such as Nancy Huston's practice of self-translation. Other authors writing at the crossroads of languages, besides Nancy Huston, include (amongst others) Christine Brooke-Rose and leading French-Canadian feminist Nicole Brossard. The research questions guiding the fellow in this critical and informed analysis aimed at linking the micro (i.e. textual) and macro (i.e. social / historical / intercultural) aspects of translation and gender. Lastly, Jane Wilhelm attempted to reflect on the epistemological horizon of theoretical approaches at the intersection of feminist studies and translation studies and on how the epistemic questions raised in this study could contribute to a general theory of translation.

Jane Wilhelm was responsible for organising two major international conferences, one in Canada and the other in France, as well as several other important academic events. She was responsible for choosing the theme of the 24th Annual Conference of the Canadian Association for Translation Studies (CATS) on Readings, Rereadings and Translation, which was held on 1 - 3 June 2011, at the University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University, in Fredericton, Canada, As a member of the Organising Committee, she helped define the program and find keynote speakers, as well as funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada. In June 2012, she also organised an International Conference on Nancy Huston: the Multiple Self, held at the Université Sorbonne nouvelle - Paris 3, with a special event in partnership with the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris on the evening of 8 June 2012, a bilingual reading presented by Nancy Huston along with a play based on one of her short stories. The conference enabled scholars from many countries to share in the latest research on the author's practice of self-translation. It also aimed to better understand the author's relation to feminism, as well as the following themes present throughout her work: the language of exile, individual or collective identity, the body, maternity, creation-procreation and sexuality. Nancy Huston's crossover between French and English as a form of 'border-writing' subverts the conventional categories of the original work and its translation thus inviting the conference participants to question her practice and representation of both writing and translation.

Aside from these two international conferences, Jane Wilhelm also co-organised a literary roundtable on 1 June 2011, in Fredericton, on 'World Literature and Literary Translators' (with Jo-Anne Elder, President of the Literary Translator's Association of Canada) and a session on 'Culture as Translation' (with her Sorbonne colleague, Isabelle Génin) at the 9th International Conference Crossroads in Cultural Studies on July 6, 2012, in Paris. As a follow-up to the CATS Conference, held in Fredericton, she is presently co-editor of a special issue of the Canadian translation journal TTR (Traductologie, terminologie, rédaction) to be published on the theme of 'Readings, Re-readings, Translation'.

An important research objective was to reflect on the epistemological horizon of theoretical approaches, on how some of the epistemic questions raised in the field of translation studies could contribute to a general theory of translation. This important question was addressed in an article which Jane Wilhelm prepared for the well-known Canadian journal META (to be published in the fall of 2012): an interview with one of France's leading translations studies scholar, Jean-René Ladmiral. This complex question will also be developed in a book which she is presently preparing with Jean-René Ladmiral to be published by Zeta Books in the 'Zeta Series in Translation Studies' in Bucharest, Romania, in 2013.

On the occasion of the Marie Curie Researchers Symposium celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Marie Curie actions, which was held in Warsaw from 25 to 27 September 2011, Jane Wilhelm was one of six fellows invited to participate in the only session dedicated to the humanities and social sciences entitled 'Society, heritage, economy'. In this session where she presented her research in translation and gender with a view to the wider societal implications of the project, her fellow speakers and the public found the subject matter particularly interesting, innovative and stimulating. On the numerous occasions in which she presented her research project over the last two years, whether at international conferences, in lectures and seminar presentations in France, Canada, Italy or Poland, the fellow found an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response to the subject of translation and gender.

In an age of globalisation, research in the area of cultural difference and its translation is essential. In a democratic framework, only policies aimed at the inclusion and participation of all citizens are guarantees of social cohesion, lasting peace and the vitality of civil society. The dialogue of cultural pluralism in our diversified societies in Europe today entails facilitating the inclusion and participation of women from varied cultural backgrounds. Research in gender and translation has a deep social impact for the future since the dimensions of gender, language and intercultural communication are so fundamental to society.

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